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Light Jets:
Value leaders for their highest flexibility- lowest costs

“Light” only in name- ultimately- where performance and value reign as dominant factors it is worth remembering there’s nothing lightweight about the value and flexibility of this category of corporate aircraft.

You’ll likely notice a pattern if you spend a little time perusing the marketing materials promoting business aviation: As business jets increase in size from light jets to the low end of the large-cabin purpose-built models- the stated seating capacity tends to vary only slightly; six to eight seats dominates the standard configurations of many of the offerings across size-category lines.

It’s true that as aircraft increase in size- headroom and leg-room similarly increase- even if available seating does not. It’s also true that for many models- full-fuel payload doesn’t seem to grow proportionally – although a model here and there does defy this typically true generality.

Additionally- still-air range also seems to increase as you move up the categories - but ultimately- steps up in size and range also tend to reduce flexibility in an important- not-to-be-overlooked way: airport access. As jets get bigger and heavier their runway needs increase – often dramatically – with no appreciable gain in how many people can fly or how much equipment the jet can carry. Does that make bigger better? Not where value and flexibility rule.

THE VALUE QUOTIENT
We know many feel an emotional aversion to aircraft too small for their sensibilities; people want to equate “bigger” with “safer” in a way that the physics belie.

The realities of the physics aside- however- the next step up in size seldom results in a major improvement in seating capacity- let alone in full-fuel cabin load. In reality- the larger jets need more power which means more fuel to cover the same ground at about the same speed – so cabin capacity changes minimally where max-range trips are concerned.

That returns us to that maximum-range leg fixation: Why do we so covet range capabilities seldom- even rarely- needed?

BUSINESS AVIATION REAL-WORLD STYLE
A light jet fully-fueled and flying a typical business aviation mission departs with fuel for the mission- including reserves – in some cases sufficient fuel to return home without adding more. And that maximum- fuel jet can often barely carry the typical passenger load of three persons making the trip – unless one or two of them also doubles as a crew member.

With the average mission length under 750 miles and the nominal max-range of light jets around 1-200 miles- the crew enjoys the option of flying lighter- saving fuel. (Note: The lower the total weight of the aircraft- the less fuel it consumes on the mission- all other factors being equal). Fueling for the mission- with NBAA reserves- allows a larger cabin load – making three or four- plus crew- possible.

In most cases were a fuel stop is not required- the speed difference between a light- a mid-cabin and a large-cabin jet results in a leg taking only slightly longer to fly – but at the trade-off of higher direct operating costs of the larger jets. Any time gained – we’re talking a few minutes in most cases – is certainly insufficient to offset operating costs running 50 percent to 100 percent higher- or more.

So for most people- the question comes down to this: is a bit of headroom for a 100-minute typical mission really cost-justifiable?

That brings us to the one aspect of light jets in which they not only excel but cannot be beaten: accomplishing the needed mission at the lowest overall cost.

SIZE COSTS
Five hundred to 750 miles at a max cruise around 400 knots while carrying four passengers will generally cost less in a light jet than making the same trip in a mid-size jet at a 480-knot max cruise; even more so than a large-cabin jet.

The time difference between heavy and light business jets on a typical mission is small – about 10 to 12 minutes- overall - and is not a large time savings for costs that may be considerably higher for the larger aircraft. Further; beyond these speed-range-payload operational basics- airport fees tend to be larger for heavier aircraft.

With airports and FBOs increasingly turning to weight-based ramp fees for revenue- a larger jet incurs a higher ramp fee; and even if a large-enough fuel purchase can bring a waiver of the fee- you’re still buying far more fuel. Additionally- the smaller light jet crew will have the option of far more airports – often closer- more convenient and less expensive than what’s needed for the mid- and large-cabin jets. It’s hard to escape the heavyweight value edge of light jets.

It should be noted- however- that ride qualities are impacted by the aircraft’s wing loading (the aircraft’s weight per square foot of wing area). The higher the wing loading- the smoother the ride in turbulence- all other factors such as the aircraft’s inherent stability being equal. Light jets achieve their lower take-off and landing distances- compared with heavy jets- by virtue of their lower wing loading.

Workspace while traveling is another consideration. Decisions related to aircraft size are impacted by the needs of passengers to use their travel time productively.

WHAT MAKES A “LIGHT” JET?
Today we consider a jet “light” when it’s Maximum Take-off Weight falls between 10-000 and 20-000 pounds. Up to about a decade back the Light segment represented the bottom rung of the business jet ladder… that was before the Entry Level Jets entered the market- differentiated by weights below almost everything ever built at less than 10-000 pounds.

Ultimately- where performance and value reign as dominant factors- remember this: there’s nothing lightweight about the value and flexibility of these light jets.

LIGHT JET PRICE GUIDE
The Light Jets Retail Price Guide (see eMag version of this article) represents current values published in the Aircraft Bluebook – Price Digest. The study spans model years from 1991 through 2010. Values reported are in USD millions. Each reporting point represents the current retail value published in the Aircraft Bluebook by its corresponding calendar year. For example- the Citation Jet 525 values reported in the Fall 2010 edition of Bluebook show $1-350-000 USD for a 1993 model- $1-450-000 USD for a 1994 model and so forth.

Aircraft are listed alphabetically. With the reader’s knowledge of aircraft- equipment- range and performance- the following Guide allows the reader to determine the best value range for consideration.

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